Love Never Fails

Take up your preferred Bible and read 1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1.  Myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Now that the turkey is reduced to leftovers, we put Thanksgiving behind us and think more about Christmas.  I know we have Christmas overachievers in our church family; you already have your gifts bought, probably wrapped, and either hidden or placed carefully under your tree.  The underachievers who will wait until Dec. 24 OR LATER to shop and all the rest of us are going to be out and about the next three weeks.

One of the things we experience while out and about, especially this time of year, are strangers doing “random acts of kindness” to other strangers.  This week, Richard Hanson had a great idea to improve the custom.  His idea was to have a card prepared explaining that your act of kindness was not random at all, but was the product of a love-relationship with Jesus Christ.  Do the act, leave the card and have a “silent witness” of Jesus.

We have printed several of these cards for your use.  Let me recommend you take a few of these and when you buy lunch for the people in line behind you or pay for the purchases of the person in line ahead of you, give them one of these cards and put the face of Jesus on your kindness.

J.B. McPhail wrote, “Love is the fabric of a life well lived.” Acts of kindness are seasonally appropriate and give evidence of good character.  If you use these cards, you will add witness to service and improve both, with eternal consequences.

  1. Context: THE GREATER GIFTS, THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY,

THE WAY OF LOVE (12:31 + 14:1).

There are three expressions Paul used that provide context for this teaching, so it’s important to interpret these first.

The first is, EAGERLY DESIRE THE GREATER GIFTS.  Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts because his original teaching had been corrupted by false teachers for their purposes.  The Gift of Tongues had been exalted as being above all the others, so Paul countered by saying there are greater Gifts than Tongues. Paul didn’t identify which Gifts are GREATER, but in chapter fourteen, he made it clear that the Gift of Prophecy is a more useful Gift than Tongues.

The second phrase is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  This is Paul’s transitional statement, the way he introduces this chapter about love.  1 Corinthians 13 is a passage lifted out of its context possibly more often than any other in the Bible.

Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts in the chapter before and after.  Ch. 13 is NOT a parenthesis, but part a chain of reasoning covering chapters 12-14.   In chapter 12 he introduced the reader to the Spiritual Gifts, listing and defining them as God’s way of growing churches.  In chapter 13 he puts them in proper perspective vis-à-vis LOVE; the Gifts are ways to express and enact love.  In chapter 14 he showed how misuse of the Gift of Tongues messed up worship in the Corinthian church.

Paul made it clear that LOVE is superior to t Gifts; it is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  The Greek word for LOVE here is agape.  The word was used only once in all the secular Greek texts which survive into modern times.  This word was taken up by New Testament authors and the Church to convey the ultimate love given by God to humanity.  It is the deepest, most spiritual version of the three Greekk words for LOVE.  It is the ultimate kind of LOVE.  It is not superficial, sensual, or sentimental.

The third phrase is FOLLOW THE WAY OF LOVE is in 14:1; LOVE is a WAY of life.  We are to pursue this virtue in our daily living and ultimately, in our character.

  1. Without love, even the Spiritual Gifts are powerless (13:1-3, 8-10)

Without love, TONGUES fail to communicate (1) and will ultimately be STILLED (8).  LOVE is the difference between merely making noise and communicating in a godly way.  Without a translation, public use of the Gift of Tongues only succeeds in making noise and worse, may irritate the Body of Christ, like the clang and bang of a GONG and CYMBALS, say.  The GONG and CYMBALS were used in Old Testament worship (see 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8; Psalms 150:5) and also idol worship; not referred to in a derogatory way. Instead, there’s just not a lot you can communicate with a GONG or CYMBALS.  We need to make words, not just noise.  One aspect of love’s superiority over Tongues is that LOVE will continue to exist after the Second Coming, while the Gift of Tongues will cease (8).

Without love, the knowledge and faith bestowed by PROPHECY amounts to NOTHING (2) and will ultimately CEASE (8).  The Gift of Prophecy can involve FORE-telling the future but it is mostly FORTH-telling; interjecting the truth where people are misunderstanding or misbehaving.

MYSTERIES and KNOWLEDGE are variations of the same Gk word.  They refer to deep knowledge of hidden and significant things.  In Paul’s time as in ours, “moving mountains” is an expression for overcoming great challenges (see Mark 11:22-23).  BUT – done without love, even great achievements are NOTHING.  After Jesus’ Second Coming, there won’t be any need for the Gift of Prophecy because all survivors will know God’s will (see JMH 31:33-34).

Without love, GIVING has no benefit (3).  The kind of sacrifice Paul describes in verse three is total, even to the point of giving up one’s life.  In modern terms we might paraphrase Paul to say, “Even if I become such a workaholic that I suffer burnout”.  This may be a reference to the fiery trials of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abenego in Daniel 3.  Notice that Paul did NOT say in verse eight that giving will cease.  Heaven will be a place of ultimate and true giving (never false or for evil, only good).

Our knowledge is, at best, partial and immature (8-12).  It requires love to make it valuable.

Our knowledge is always partial.  People who ignore this fact fall into a vice that makes people hard to live with: the arrogant assumption they know it all.  Paul identified this vice in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP means that knowledge can lead to pride.  The Bible teaches that only God is all-knowing, so put your pride in park and get real!

Our knowledge is always immature.  Growing old and maturing are not the same thing.  Growing old happens automatically; the longer we survive, the more birthdays we accrue.  Maturing takes time, so it looks similar, but maturing is a process that happens by intention and application of hard work.  Spiritual maturing, the greatest of all kinds of maturity, happens only with hard work and the help of the Holy Spirit.

The more we learn, the more we have to admit there is more we CAN learn.  It takes a maturing person to admit there is still room for self-improvement and then to take up that challenge.  There is no reason to be “puffed up.”

In heaven (WHEN COMPLETENESS COMES, v. 10), our knowledge will be full and mature.  Now we see God only as He is reflected in human beings – sometimes a very poor likeness – but then we shall see Him FACE TO FACE.

(Corinthian mirrors of polished metal were famous in the ancient world – Paul refers to them here.)  In heaven we will KNOW FULLY, even as God now has perfect knowledge of each of us.

  1. The qualities of true love (13:4-8, 13).

Paul expressed the qualities of LOVE positively: LOVE IS…

– PATIENT (4) = it overlooks small offenses; resists becoming resentful; is active, not passive.

– KIND (4) = it thinks of ways to help others.

– Joyful in the TRUTH (6) = lovers are happy with honesty.

– Unfailing (8) = as God is love, love will always be needed, appropriate, and powerful.

– Maturing (11) = childish ways of thinking and speaking giving way to adult means are Paul’s way of symbolizing spiritual maturity.

– Protective (7) = it helps, doesn’t hurt unless pain is necessary for healing.

– Trusting (7) = by being trustworthy.  Loving people have discernment but start with positivity.

– Hopeful (7) = Negativity always hinders and hurts.  Hopeful people give others the benefit of the doubt.

– Persevering (7) = will not give up on people and is willing to endure adversity in order to love.

– The greatest of all virtues (13) = HOPE and FAITH are important, even essential virtues.  They will all remain for eternity, but LOVE is t GREATEST.

– You could summarize all ten of these virtues as being having a focus on someone other than self.  Those who truly love are focused on God first, others second, self last.

Paul also expressed the qualities of LOVE negatively: LOVE IS NOT…

– Envious (4) = it is not materialistic; it does not want what others have.

– Boastful (4) = it does not seek superiority over others, nor is it characterized by “one-upmanship” and an insistence on “winning” arguments.

– Proud (4) = it is not arrogantly centered on one’s achievements and qualifications to the point of feeling entitled.

– Dishonoring (5) = it is not so self-absorbed as to disregard the well-being of others, even to the violation of God’s standards.  It doesn’t withhold respect.

– Self-seeking (5) = this vice sums up this entire section.  The other eight vices explain how to recognize self-centered people.

– EASILY ANGERED (5) = it’s focus is not on one’s self manifest in a short temper and/or perceiving insults or injuries where none were intended.

– A recorder of WRONGS (5) = it does not withhold forgiveness.  When we pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” we may be asking for a world of hurt.  Selfish people hold grudges.

-Delighted with evil (6) = it does not derive a wicked happiness when seeing someone else “get what they deserve” or get away with wrong-doing.

Horror is not a genre I enjoy, so I rarely read or watch it.  One of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever seen has no monsters or killers or violence of any kind.  It is a film shown to us in elementary school, called “Cipher in the Snow.”  It is the short story of an ordinary school kid who walked off the school bus one morning and fell over dead.  His teacher undertook to understand what killed Cliff.

The film was based on a story by Jean Mizer, a lady who worked as a teacher and guidance counselor, published in the NEA Journal in 1964.  It was produced by Bringham Young University and has been used extensively for anti-bullying education and moral training.

Although the film does not come out and say so explicitly, it is clearly implied that Cliff died from a lack of love.  The teacher finds that Cliff’s parents divorced and he had no friends at school.  There was no one there to love him.

It scared the willies out of me, but I took the lesson to heart.  The film illustrates the disaster that is a loveless life.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Love is one of the easiest things to talk about and sing about.  Everyone wants to celebrate love and everyone wants to receive love.  It’s not so easy

to do.  It’s not always part of our nature or personality to be loving, especially not at the high standard God sets for love.

It’s much easier and more natural for us to love self first, or substitute legalism for love and then make excuses to conceal our lack of love.  Love is not optional for a follower of Jesus, it is essential, indeed, the defining aspect of our character.

Seek ways to love.  Act on opportunities that present themselves.  Love is too important to be kept waiting, so get to it.  And, there’s no better time than Christmas to go about proclaiming and enacting the love of Jesus Christ.

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Let’s Get Real

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Just before worship was to start, the pastor heard a loud argument going on outside the church.  He stuck his head out the door to see four preteen boys and a dog.

It didn’t seem like they were going to resolve it or move on any time soon, so the preacher stepped out and approached the boys.

“Hey fellows,” he said, “We’re about to start worship here and can’t have this ruckus.  What’s the problem?”

One of the boys spoke up.  “It’s like this, preacher.  We found this stray dog and caught him and made this leash.  We all want to take him home and keep him.  Just before you walked up here, we decided to hold a contest.  Whoever could tell the biggest lie would get to keep the doggie.”

“Oh no, boys,” the pastor looked shocked.  “That idea is straight from the pit of hell.  When I was your age, I never told a lie.”

The boy’s faces suddenly took on a glum aspect and one of them put the leash in the preacher’s hand.  “All right, pastor, you win.”

When a whopper is told, the reply is given, “Get real.”  By that, we express our desire to know the truth and be governed by honesty.  The most real thing in all creation is our Creator.  As we’ve been learning, in order to get real, we need to get closer to Him.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

NEW:

We must be faithful laborers (according to vs. 5-9, that means farmers and builders).

Paul and Apollos both served the church in Corinth,  each in their assigned roles.  Contrary to the controversy that co-opted them, both Paul and Apollos were SERVANTS (see Philippians 1:1 where Paul identified both himself and Timothy as SERVANTS).

The word for SERVANTS is diakonai, the word we translate as “deacons.”  There are several things implications from Paul’s use of this term.

One, as SERVANTS, leaders are never to idolize themselves or be idolized by their followers.  Leaders are not to cooperate with controversy by becoming the figurehead of one side.  Paul wrote this chapter to defuse that very thing in the Corinthian church.

Two, SERVANTS know their master.  In all his letters, Paul identified himself and his associates as serving God or the Gospel, but NEVER as serving churches.  This means his authority to preach and teach did not stem from the church members, but came from God Himself.

It can be confusing because when we look at the relationship between church and pastor, it looks like an employer-employee relationship.  However, that is not the whole truth.  The pastor’s authority includes and surpasses the local congregation.  For example, in Corinth, Paul did not draw a wage, but Apollos did.  Their authority was the same in both cases, as Paul makes clear.  The pastor-church relationship needs to be understood biblically first, then implemented in ways that exhibit good stewardship.

Three, SERVANT is not a demeaning term.  Servants are not doormats, scapegoats, or gophers.  All people, regardless of their roles are worthy of a basic level of respect.  Leaders are to receive an extra dose of respect according to 1 Timothy 5:17; The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

Jesus Himself took on the role of a servant (see John 17).  Paul wrote the same thing about him in Philippians 2:7.  No one is greater than Jesus.

Four, Jesus taught true leadership begins and ends with service: Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Biblical servanthood is always voluntary; never imposed.  It is a choice we make out of the best possible motive; to serve Jesus by serving each other.  Ephesians 5:21 says plainly; Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Servanthood is not for leaders alone: how can leaders lead when followers don’t follow?  That’s why Hebrews 13:17 says, Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

In terms of roles, Paul identified three.  Paul identified himself as the “planter,” the one who started the church.  In 2 Corinthians 13:10, Paul asserted his authority to BUILD UP the Corinthian church. He identified Apollos as the “waterer,” someone who nurtured the church.  Paul identified neither himself nor Apollos as the one who grew the church, but instead, rightly credited God as the “grower.” The planter and waterer have their roles, but they deserve neither the blame nor the credit for church growth – that is solely God’s work.

Leaders in the church are CO-WORKERS.  We have differing roles but only one purpose; pointing people to Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, our job is two-fold.  We plant, which is we prepare for growth by creating opportunities for ministry and training ministers.  We water, which means we nurture followers that come into our church, helping them to mature in their faith.  God requires faithfulness, which He recognizes with fruitfulness.                 Church growth is not supposed to be our achievement, but sometimes it is.  Human will and worldly wisdom do account for numerical growth in some churches.

True church growth can’t be measured in numbers alone.  It is measured in improved character, in greater spiritual maturity, more joy, deeper prayer, and improved service, among other things.

Logically, God exercises wisdom choosing churches to receive His gifts of growth.  When we get frustrated at what we perceive as a lack of growth, we should ask ourselves, “What is my contribution to the life of the church?  Am I building up or tearing down?”

Then we should ask of our church, “What is it about our planting and watering that is not of God?  Are we prepared to receive growth or not?  Are we nurturing what we have or not?”  As we saw last Sunday in vs. 10-15, in v. 8, the laborers’ work will be REWARDED after it is judged by God.

Paul clarified the identity of the Church in two figures of speech.

One, YOU ARE GOD’S FIELD.  The Greek word for FIELD is georgion, and it refers to a cultivated field; land that has been worked for the purpose of growing things.  We are a FIELD in the sense that we try to make Jesus visible every moment we live.

Two, YOU ARE GOD’S BUILDING.  In Ephesians 2:20-22 and 1 Peter 2:5, the people of God being a BUILDING that is constructed of living stones like a physical building is constructed with individual bricks and stones.  We are also God’s BUILDING in the sense of our being the result of His work building up His Church, causing it to grow, as in v. 6.  Finally, we are God’s building in the sense of being His TEMPLE, as affirmed in vs. 16-17.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

According to the USDA, the harvest is pretty much over here in SD.  The rich black soil of planted fields in the spring has given way to the green, growing fields of summer and the brown harvested fields of fall.  Unless global warming becomes perfectly obvious, the ground will rest and be covered in white. The seasons in the life of a church are measured in years, sometimes generations, and follow similar cycles of growing and going fallow.  Following this agricultural

symbolism, Paul taught that it is our job to prepare for growth and care for growth, but we cannot make church growth happen on our own; it is a gift from God. It is preparing our church as a farmer prepares the soil in the spring, then planting the seed.

How do we do that?  If we desire God to grow our church, we have to prepare by becoming the kind of people He can trust with new lives.  Specifically, this means:

– Getting rid of all sin, especially sins of the tongue.  God will not build where the people will tear down.

– Encouraging right living by means of Scripture, prayer, and spiritual maturity.  God will grow His best fruits where the soil is fertile with His Spirit and His words.

– Building community through worship, fellowship, and Christian education.  God will not sow His seeds among weeds.

– Creating relationships outside our walls by pairing acts of service with words of witness. God will not grow fruit in a walled garden.  He wants His fruits to bless all the people.

Let’s get real.  Let’s prepare this field by praying for wisdom to see ourselves candidly and know the truth.  Listen to no one else.  Repent of the problem parts, explore and expand the solution parts.

The Real Deal

(Please read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 in your go-to Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

We’ve been talking about real life the last couple Sundays and we will continue to look at topic today as we delve one more time into 1 Corinthians 3.  But last Sunday something happened in Texas that made life seem unreal.  You all realize that I am referring to the horrible massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The savagery of the attack has shattered our illusions of safety.  In an almost superstitious way we believed that a cross on the building and worship inside the building made us bullet-proof.  We have been forcefully reminded that our safety is in God alone.   No measure of false confidence, no amount of earthly material, is going to make us feel safe.  Again, our safety is in God alone.

To illustrate this fact, I learned that in Prince William County – the place where FBC, Sutherland Springs is located – the police had scheduled a “Worship Watch” event aimed at training faith leaders on how to create a safer house of worship.  It was scheduled to take place November 21st.
We can and should take steps to protect our house of worship and the precious people who gather inside.  We can no longer assume that people will respect sacred places or that any place is safe because it is too small to attraction attention.

While we do this, real life must continue.  We must continue to build our faith in Christ.  Love manifest in spiritual growth must remain our priority.  True security comes from knowing we are in God’s hands and from being united in that assurance.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

   1. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

   2. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

NEW:

  1. We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

In verse ten, Paul identifies himself as a foundation-builder.  Here he is writing about starting the church in Corinth.  He spent 18 months there, getting the church going.

Though he identifies himself as a WISE BUILDER, Paul is not boasting.  From the start, he acknowledges that his ministry has depended on the GRACE of God.  When he added, SOMEONE ELSE IS BUILDING UPON IT, Paul acknowledged he founded the church in Corinth, but had since turned its leadership over to others.  Whether leaders or followers, everyone who attempts to build up the church must do so carefully, not selfishly or aimlessly, but in deliberately Christ-like fashion.

In verse eleven, Paul identifies Jesus as the only foundation-builder.  Here he is writing about our faith as a whole, the world-wide Church of which Jesus is the Founder and Head.  The FOUNDATION of all the churches was laid by Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).

Anything built on that foundation must be done in the character and spirit of the Founder, following His teaching.  After all, good builders follow the blueprints.  If anything contrary to the foundation is attempted, it will not stand.  Paul delivers this warning because a false foundation is worse than no foundation at all.

In verses twelve through fifteen Paul illustrates Judgment Day (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4; Hebrews 10:25) as the time when what every person has built on the foundation will be tested by fire. The quality of each person’s building materials will be tested.

– GOLD, SILVER, and COSTLY STONES are not typical building materials.  The temple that existed in Paul’s time was adorned with precious metals and stones and it may be that he wants the reader to envision the temple.  We assume Paul meant to contrast valuable and enduring materials with the cheap and temporary stuff.  Perhaps the point was something like, “We’ve all seen ornate, beautiful buildings that have stood for generations.  We’ve also seen simple huts that last for a few seasons.  Where would you like to live?”

– WOOD, HAY, and STRAW were more widely used at that time.  I suppose someone could make a quick shelter with this stuff, but a real home would have to be made of more durable material.

– There’s no mention of stone or brick, the most common material for permanent structures.  There’s another thing missing too; Paul does not guarantee any of the six materials he mentions will automatically survive the fire.  My guess is this means that we shouldn’t be fooled by outward appearances.  Like buildings, people and churches can have impressive facades but inwardly are firetraps, doomed to destruction.

The means of testing will be by FIRE (see 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; 2:8; Daniel 7:9+; Malachi 4:1), presuming that everything we’ve built in life that is NOT of the Lord will be destroyed.  What is of the LORD, built with His help, will SURVIVE.  (See 1 Peter 1:7; fire improves faith.)

In the Bible, FIRE is a symbol of purification and destruction.  Either could be implied here.  But FIRE is also a symbol of God’s presence (the pillar of fire that lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt).  In this case, all of the above can be appropriate.

The person’s eternal reward is determined by what survives the flames.  Paul indicated two possible outcomes:

– NOTHING SURVIVES = The person is SAVED (they will go to heaven) but will receive no further REWARD; he will SUFFER LOSS, the loss of heavenly rewards.  Picture here the person whose home is destroyed by fire and they escape only with the clothes on their back.  The person is glad to be alive but wishes the result was different.

– SOMETHING SURVIVES = The person is SAVED and receives additional rewards while in heaven.

The word REWARD can also be translated as “wages.” Paul wrote extensively in chapter nine of this letter that he had a right to receive material and financial support from the Corinthians when he worked among them.  As an act of grace, he did not press this right, but worked outside the church to provide for his own needs.

This testing is obviously done only on believers; the unbelieving and unrepentant have no foundation in Christ and will not have any place in heaven; they are not SAVED.

PREVIEW:

   2. We must be faithful builders (vs. 5-9).

You don’t have to be a great carpenter to realize that either a poor foundation or use of inferior building materials will shorten the useful life of a structure, maybe make it unsafe.  A skilled carpenter can easily spot these kinds of defects.

When we were house-hunting in Illinois, we leaned heavily on the advice of a professional carpenter in our congregation.  I called Jack a “Forensic Carpenter” because he could look at a house and tell you not only the quality of materials and workmanship, but also the order in which the work had been done.  He could compile a history of the structure on the basis of his inspections.  We ended up with a nice home and Jack was one to thank for that.

Similarly, all Christians are to be builders.  Our daily living – if we live for Christ – will develop our building skills in relation to building up our church, our relationships, and our selves.  Our objective is to become, like Paul, an EXPERT BUILDER where things of faith are concerned.

The means of building each other up are found in being positive, being biblical, and being loving to one another.  We must be creative and sensitive in the ways we reach out to one another because our ultimate objective is to point out Jesus.

Let me offer an example as we conclude.  Think of someone in your life who needs to be built up.  Either buy or craft a Thanksgiving card that points to Jesus.  On the card, write all the things you can think of that make you thank God for that person.  Write a prayer for their well-being.  Mail it or deliver it in person.

Reality Sets In

Please read 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 21-23 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

The Internet search company Google is probably the world’s biggest data collector.  No surprise there.  It may surprise you to hear they have spent millions of dollars measuring their own employees, attempting to learn how to compile “the perfect team.”

They assumed building good teams required combining the best people, but it wasn’t that simple.  In 2012 Google started Project Aristotle.  Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics division “We looked at 180 teams from all over the company. We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’

The study concluded that in good teams, members show sensitivity, listening to one another.   This lead to a concept called “psychological safety;” a belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.  That feeling of safety allows all members to contribute to the conversation knowing that their ideas and emotions will be respected.  Putting together a successful team has less to do with who is on the team, more with how the members interact.

(Adapted from https://www.scoro.com/blog/teamwork-stories-importance-of-teamwork/ on 11/3/17.)

Once again, this is a case of science affirming what was already revealed to the writers of Scripture.  We see affirmation of the fact that being a church requires an agreement to love one another.

Love forbears, forgives, and forgets.  Love welcomes the practice of trial and error as a means of discovering God’s will and is never guilty of putting someone on trial for making an error.

In Christian families and churches we are called to create the kind of safe environment that Google’s data revealed as the most productive type of environment.  Psychological Safety will exist among people who emphasize grace and gentleness.  People who follow Jesus and who want their church to grow begin with love, which is manifest in purpose tempered by positivity, success achieved by means of interpersonal support.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

a. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

NEW:

b. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

First, godliness involves knowing who you are.  According to this passage, you are GOD’S TEMPLE (16) and YOU TOGETHER ARE THAT TEMPLE (17).  The Gk word for TEMPLE (naos) refers specifically to the building itself; the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, not the whole temple campus.  This gives the analogy a depth of meaning.

Here in 1 Corinthians 3, believers joined together in a church form GOD’S TEMPLE.  (See Ephesians 2:21-22 and 1 Peter 2:5.)  Later, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul’s emphasis seems a bit more centered on individual believers as God’s dwelling-place:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Individual believers being “little temples” (God’s “mobile homes,”) going about the world is a thought that follows Jesus’ description of Himself.  He said His earthly body was a TEMPLE (JHN 2:19-21).

Whether together or apart, believers are God’s dwelling-place.  That fact alone makes us responsible to behave like a believer everywhere we go.

How do we know we’re His temple?  We know it is true because God the Father has given God the Spirit to us.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote: GOD’S SPIRIT DWELLS IN YOUR MIDST.  In 2 Corinthians 1:22 & 5:5, Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit is our GUARANTEE that all God’s promises are true; they will be kept.

Part of God’s guarantee is His promise to protect us.  GOD’S TEMPLE is SACRED as indicated by His promise to avenge us against all who DESTROY us.  The word SACRED means “holy” and “set apart.”  It is a state of moral/spiritual purity and a state of separation from sin and worldliness, as we saw last week.  DESTROY also means “to defile or corrupt,” so it doesn’t only mean persecution in the form of acts of physical violence.  It includes spiritual corruption.  This warning is not limited to persons outside the church.  People inside the fellow-ship who are divisive or in any way impede the ministry of the church are in trouble.

Paul was concerned this is what was happening at Corinth.  He didn’t exaggerate the situation: they were dividing over flagrant

immorality, idolatry, relationships between WEAK and STRONG members, Spiritual Gifts, mis-practiced communion and the resurrection, just to hit the highlights.  Competitiveness and false doctrine had created separate parties in the church and anyone who pushed the success of their party over obedience to Christ was destroying the church.  God Himself opposed them.

People of faith should be encouraged to know that God will defend His own.  Justice will be served.

YOU ARE OF CHRIST AND CHRIST IS OF GOD explains how it is that ALL THINGS belong to God’s people.  This is a theological statement that reveals the fact that God the Son and God the Father are one, just as Jesus said (see John 10:30).

– It is through our faith-relationship with Jesus Christ that the unlimited resources of God the Father are made available to us.

– In His death and resurrection, Jesus redeemed us.  That is, He paid the price for our sins; He bought us out of slavery to sin.

– Through Jesus Christ – God the Son – we have access to God the Father, and that is the life-giving chain by which all this is possible.

Second, godliness involves knowing what is in store for you (21-23).  Good things are in store for those who wait upon the Lord.  Paul’s words ALL THINGS ARE YOURS (22) and ALL ARE YOURS (23) leave nothing to worry about.  Because we have God’s unlimited provision in the PRESENT and FUTURE, we can obey God’s command in Philippians 4:6 = Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Your future does not depend on any of your leaders; WHETHER PAUL OR APOLLOS OR CEPHAS.  This should be obvious; God is in charge.  Church leaders have their roles to play, but God decides whether a church will be fruitful or not (as we’ll see in v. 7).

Your future does not depend on the WORLD’s approval or support.  That’s good news because we can generally depend on the WORLD’s disapproval and, in some places, outright persecution.

Everything – LIFE and DEATH, PRESENT and FUTURE – is in God’s hands.  God is going to work in favor of His family.  He is going to work for the betterment of His children.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Last week we observed that one of the appeals of the Christian faith is that we offer the world something real.  We hold forth words of assurance that there is more to life than what the world offers.  We can make such claims until we run out of breath, but when our actions are merely worldly, then the claim is denied.

We need to work at having a culture of safety in our church.  Competition and condemnation shut down imagination and  experimentation, which forbids the innovation we need to succeed.

Churches tend to fall into one of two extremes just because it’s easier to think in extreme terms.  The one extreme exalts innovation.  With an evolutionary point of view, the assumption is that newer is always better.

The other extreme is imitation.  People in these churches have an opposing view that older is always better.  They assume that if we better imitate the way we’ve always done things, recreating the good old days, they better off we will be.

A more biblically realistic view, but one that is more difficult to achieve, puts imitation and innovation on an equal level, understanding these are both merely tools to achieve what is our true goal: pointing people to God.

Philosophies and programs are not goals; they are means to the real goal, which is making Jesus Christ apparent in our lives, whether we are together in this building or apart from it.  Good builders know how to use a variety of tools to complete their job.  If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, then hanging pictures is easy, but sawing wood is practically impossible.

What we see here in 1 Corinthians 3 is that God’s people use God’s methods and His tools to faithfully build more of Jesus in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

a. We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

b. We must be faithful builders (vs. 5-9).

What IS Real

Please read 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and 18-20 in your favorite Bible.  Me, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on September 20 of this year; just over a month ago.  In its wake, Maria left the island of 3.4 million people without clean water and electricity.

Nine days after the hurricane, a storm of another sort arose on Twitter.  President Donald Trump responded to criticism for the federal response, twice faulting San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

I will not weigh in on the tweet shots fired across the ocean between these leaders.  Frankly, that would dignify an exchange that should never have taken place.  But there are two things to be learned.

First, we are reminded that even people who share the same goals can disagree.  The important thing is that the right to disagree does not endow anyone with the right to be disagreeable.  Let’s be honest: whether we are communicating in person or by any other means, respect and honesty are essential, not negotiable.  This is especially true in the church, which is supposedly populated by people who are committed to a higher standard of love and relationships.

Second – without taking sides – I like what Mayor Cruz wrote: “I have only one goal and it is saving lives, and I will do and I will say whatever needs to be said or done to be able to do that.”

Here’s what I like about that quote: she called for a restoration of perspective.  Part of what we must do to keep the number one thing number one is to push aside pettiness and personalities to pull together toward God’s perfect will.

Paul wrote this letter to a divided church.  They were feuding about several things, some of which were very petty and one of which was a dispute over personalities.  The people were dividing into camps over who their favorite preacher was – Paul or Apollos.  It concerned Paul enough that this was the first issue he tackled in this letter.  We’re going to take four Sundays to carefully study this passage and learn what God reveals to us about real church life, how we are to conduct real relationships.

  1. Realistic Identity = Who are we

a. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

Worldliness is a sign of immaturity (1-4).  Paul referred to the recipients of this letter as INFANTS IN CHRIST.  They survived (but did not thrive) by “feeding” on spiritual MILK.  They were not ready for SOLID FOOD.

MILK is a metaphor of basic beliefs about salvation.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” When you are feeding an INFANT, MILK is the logical choice of foods; it is the introductory food.

SOLID FOOD is a metaphor of deeper biblical truths.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do now that I am saved?”  If you are feeding someone more mature than an INFANT, you begin to switch out MILK with SOLID FOOD.

To put it another way, Paul wrote, “You weren’t ready before and you haven’t matured enough since then.”  The problem is not the cuisine per se, but the fact that the choice of cuisine was dictated by their immaturity.  This is the situation Paul was talking about when he wrote to his associate, Timothy; For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

This letter is addressed to a church, but we see the same predilection toward subtle selfishness in our culture: look at the “experts” in media, the popular voices.  They advocate self-satisfaction, self-centeredness, and self-help.  But this is also manifest in the Church when people prefer sermons and Bible studies they can safely ignore, servings of short and soft and non-challenging pap.

Paul offered three signs of immaturity as examples.  This particular set often results in divisions in the church.

– JEALOUSY is competitiveness where cooperation ought to exist.

– QUARRELING is taking a simple difference of opinion to a more emotional level.  A quarrel can only happen between people who insist on “winning,” though there are no winners.

– ACTING LIKE MERE HUMANS, too willing to split into parties and/or to idolize leaders.  (Paul and Apollos served the Corinthian church together (18:1-28).  They did not encourage this party spirit in the church.  Some church folk pushed that agenda and chose up sides.

Even sincere and maturing Christians still struggle with their human nature.  The Corinthian church folk who politicized their pastors were not operating in the Holy Spirit.  Instead, they were guided by sinful and self-centered desires.  They were “Functional Atheists;” believers in word not in deed.

What the NIV translates as WORLDLY is literally “fleshly.”  It is sin, the opposite of a life that is heavenly and spiritual.  Real life is lived with God in focus, following His way.

Paul called these people his BROTHERS AND SISTERS, so his aim is not cutting them out of the church, but ordering them to grow up and not just grow old.  He wanted to talk to them about deeper matters of faith, but they were frozen at a level of immaturity; they weren’t growing.  Getting frozen at a level of immaturity is a common problem because we get lazy or resist change or prefer our secret sins.  Refusing to grow betrays that our human nature is in charge, not the Holy Spirit.

An aspect of worldliness is being wise in your own eyes, not in God’s (18-20.)  DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES is a key insight into sinful nature: it is an act of self-deception before it is deceiving others.  “Wise in your own eyes” is a biblical phrase that condemns the sin of pride; in this case, pride in your big brain.

– Proverbs 26:12 = Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.

– Isaiah 5:21 = Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE refers to the humanistic cultural norms of our current time and place.  The paradox is that all of us have to become FOOLS in the eyes of the world in order to become WISE in God’s eyes.

Paul quoted a couple Scriptures to prove that paradox.  God knows our hearts better than we do, so even self-deception won’t fool Him at all.

– Job 5:13 (v. 19) shows that God is not fooled; He recognizes which people who claim to be wise are merely being crafty.

– Psalm 94:11 (v. 20) warns that the plots of worldly wise people end in futility.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

The immediate application is delivered in v. 21: SO THEN, NO MORE BOASTING ABOUT HUMAN LEADERS!  Paul’s pastoral concern was for the end of all divisions in that church, starting with the division over which pastor was “true leader” of the church.

Nobody comes to church spoiling for a fight.  Mostly, we come to avoid fights.  We come to get away from the world and its deep divisions, wars and violence.  It is our sincere hope that church will be the kind of place the Bible describes, a refuge from the strife caused by ungodliness.

And that is what it is until someone brings worldly (read “ungodly”) attitudes inside.  I don’t believe we are hopeless in the face of such people.  God wants unity and He wants all of us to safeguard the unity the Holy Spirit creates in our midst.

If we won’t sacrifice self on the altar, if we won’t swallow our pride and more than a few of our words to keep the peace in order to enjoy that peace, we must do it for the rest of the world.  The world outside these walls hungers for a light, an example to follow, a guide to lead them out of the sorrows and isolation that sin creates.

If we won’t do it for ourselves or the world, let’s do it for Jesus.  He surrendered His life on the cross to make the idea church a possibility.  Why should we hesitate to do what He asks of us?

Here’s how it works.  We stick up for each other and we stick together.  We make peace a priority over rights and will and all forms of self-interest.  Then watch life become more real than ever.

Coming up – parts two to four of this series of messages:

a. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

2. Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

a. We begin with a good foundation (10-15).

b. We can be faithful builders (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

Death Benefits

Please read Philippians 1:18-26 in your own Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

We so typically think of death as an enemy (and biblically, it is) that it sounds strange to talk about “death benefits.”  When I went looking for a definition of death benefits, I was surprised to find out there is actually a website called “Investopedia.”  It seems Wikipedia has really started something and has imitators.  Anyway, Investopedia defines “death benefits” as “the amount on a life insurance policy, annuity or pension that is payable to the beneficiary when the insured or annuitant passes away. A death benefit may be a percentage of the annuitant’s pension. For example, a beneficiary might be entitled to 65% of the annuitant’s monthly pension at the time the annuitant passes away. Alternatively, a death benefit may be a large lump-sum payment from a life insurance policy. The size and structure of the payment in either a pension or a life insurance policy is determined by the type of contract held by the annuitant at the time of death. It is also known as ‘survivor benefit’.”
<Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/deathbenefit.asp on 10/06/17.>

So, once you can think of death as benefitting someone, perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to think of death as benefitting YOU.  In this section of Philippians, Paul wrote about death as being a benefit to him, even something he desired.  Why might he think that?

When you read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, you get a summary account of all the things the Apostle Paul suffered as he was persecuted for his faith in Christ.  He’d been through a lot and this might be a partial answer to the question of why Paul was entertaining these thoughts.  You could understand if he welcomed death as a release from suffering, which it certainly is.

However, when you read this passage you see something more profound than relief being sought.  Paul viewed death as a means of realizing complete fellowship with Jesus Christ.  Paul was eager for heaven, but not as a place of escape.  He was eager for heaven as a relationship with his Savior in all its fullness.  We who share Paul’s faith must also share his hope.  Let us be encouraged to learn that death is an enemy, but not one to be feared.  Jesus defeated death.  For people of faith, death is the consummation of life; a better life lies beyond this one.  Also, God is with us in both death and life.

  1. Historical context: Paul was in a life & death situation.

Philippians is one of the last letters written by the Apostle Paul.  It is part of a group of letters written while he was imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial by the emperor, AD 61-62.

The events that lead to his imprisonment have been preserved by Luke in the book of Acts.

Paul had been arrested under false charges in Jerusalem, the victim of a plot against him by the Jewish religious leaders (see Acts 21-22).

He endured trials under two Roman officials and a king (see Acts 23-26) until it came to Paul’s attention that the Jewish leaders had plotted to kill him.  To save his life, Paul appealed directly to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

The last two chapters of Acts (27+28) record Paul’s journey to Rome.

Conditions in Rome were not good at all for Christians.  The ancient Roman historian Tacitus recorded some of the horrific persecution of Christians perpetrated at that time:

“Besides being put to death, the Christians were made to serve as objects of amusement. They were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs. Others were crucified. Others were set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display and was putting on a show and a circus where he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer and drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, for it was felt that they—the Christians—were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.

Nero was the very man to whom Paul had appealed.  History tells us that Nero condemned Paul to death by beheading.

All that to say this – when Paul wrote to the Philippians about life and death it was because both of them were very real possibilities at that moment.  This was not an academic discussion, but the wrestling of his soul.

  1. Jesus Christ is our reason to live.

In our world, people want to live for various reasons.

Death is an unknown; they fear it.

We dread separation from loved ones and/or have anxiety about how our loss with affect them.

The things of this world hold our attention and we hate to lose them.

Our ambition to achieve can be so great that we fear death will thwart or undo all our achievements.  (This is the “legacy” talk we hear too often.)

Some fear God’s wrath on their sins.

Truth be told, we more often fear dying than we fear death.  Dying is one of those transitional times we typically hate.  We don’t like the thought that dying may involve pain and/or loss of our customary quality of life.

In faith, we have only one reason to live: to be of service to Christ His people: TO LIVE IS CHRIST.  Paul recognized this fact among his deliberations. He foresaw FRUITFUL LABOR (v. 22) if he were to be released.  Isn’t this the part missing in too many of our churches?  He also promised, I WILL CONTINUE WITH ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR PROGRESS AND JOY IN THE FAITH (v. 25) if this imprisonment ended with his release.  We long to experience progress and joy in church life but are so easily thwarted by sin and self-centered folk.

However, life – especially the Christian life – it is not just sorrowful obligation.  As depressing as it may seem, Paul brackets this passage with expressions of joy.  In the beginning (v. 18), he wrote I WILL CONTINUE TO REJOICE.  What brought joy to Paul was the fact that the Good News was still going out; Jesus Christ was being preached.  Would that make you rejoice? Toward the end of the passage (v. 25) he wrote, YOUR JOY IN THE FAITH.  Of all people on earth, followers of Jesus have the best reasons to be joyful.  What a shame when we aren’t!

Discussing death does not have to be doleful and dreary.  Death gives meaning to life and it affirms the things that have been important to us in life.  Paul saw life as ministry and ministry as joy.  If anyone are not characterized by joy, something is wrong at the base of their spiritual life.

  1. Jesus Christ is our hope for life after death.

Paul’s “death benefit” as expressed in Philippians 1:21 is the most important: we will be with Christ.  Jesus Christ is the focus of our hope and being with Christ is the summary of all our hopes for afterlife.  In v. 19 Paul attributed his hope to the PRAYERS and PROVISION offered by that church.  Because the Philippian church prayed, Paul had hope.

Paul predicted the result would be his DELIVERANCE.  Is he talking about DELIVERANCE from Nero or going to heaven?  Why not both?  The text itself does not allow us to make a definitive choice of either, so hanging our hat on both actually makes good sense.

For example, the Greek word for DELIVERANCE has a variety of meanings, but most typically meant to be saved from dying.  It is used in a phrase that is a quote from JOB 13:16.  Perhaps Paul thought he would, like Job, be delivered from his trials and his faith vindicated.

The point is this: because of his faith, Paul believed he was in a “win-win” situation: if he was released from jail, he would win as he would continue to preach the Gospel.  If he was executed, then that was a win, because he was released from the troubles of this life.

Its clear to me that this passage, Paul struggled for a clear sense of which he wants to happen, or which he thinks will happen.  Note the way he described his thought processes.  YET WHAT SHALL I CHOOSE?  I DO NOT KNOW! (22)  I AM TORN BETWEEN THE TWO. (23)

He is certain of one thing: in his life or death he wanted Jesus to be EXALTED.  In either case, his fondest desire is to have SUFFICIENT COURAGE to remain faithful.  His imprisonment was one of many trials Paul had to endure; each one was a temptation to call it quits.  I guess you could say Paul saw benefit for himself and for the Gospel in his life or his death, so whichever one happened was incidental.

He resolved the struggle in vs. 25-26 where he expressed a confidence in his survival and even his release, resulting in continued ministry to them.  Historically, we know that’s not what happened.  He was a martyr for his faith.  He never saw the Philippian believers again in this life.

Was Paul wrong?  Did he display a false confidence to comfort the Philippians?  I doubt it.  Paul’s confidence lay in the truth, so even well-intentioned falsehood was out of the question.

This holds meaning for us as we have faith and pray: we want God to do specific things for us and we faithfully pray about them.  But sometimes God has a different plan and those prayers are answered with a “no.”  It’s tempting to abandon one’s faith in that moment and conclude God is not real or He doesn’t love us after all.

Paul had no such reaction.  It’s clear in this passage he was prepared for whatever time would reveal as God’s will.  Paul had his priorities in order.

“Death Benefits” are also promised elsewhere in the New Testament.  (My thanks to John Piper, who identified four additional reasons that inform us of the biblical scope of Paul’s assertion TO DIE IS GAIN.  In the following Bible quotes, the emphasis in italics is Piper’s.)  (See http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/it-is-great-gain-to-die.)

Our spirits will be made perfect.  Hebrews 12:22–23 = But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just which have been made perfect.

We will be relieved of the pain of this world. Revelation 21:4 = He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, f/t old order of things has passed away.

We will receive profound rest for our souls.  Revelation 6:9–11 = I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer.

We will experience a deep at-homeness.  2 Corinthians 5:8 = We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

I read a wonderfully illustrative story recently.  “A bank in Binghamton, New York, had some flowers sent to a competitor who had recently moved into a new building. There was a mix-up at the flower shop, and the card sent with the arrangement read, ‘With our deepest sympathy.’

“The florist, who was greatly embarrassed, apologized. But he was even more embarrassed when he realized that the card intended for the bank was attached to a floral arrangement sent to a funeral home in honor of a deceased person. That card read, ‘Congratulations on your new location!’

“A sentiment like that is appropriate for Christians, because they move to a wonderful new location when they die. They go to be with Christ, and the sorrows and heartaches of this earthly existence are gone forever. Near the end of his life, Paul said that to be with Christ is ‘far better’ than to remain on earth (Philippians 1:23).”

<Retrieved from http://www.preceptaustin.org/philippians_illustrations_1 on 10-06-17.>

The point of Paul’s message is not to minimize the impact death has.  It is devastating to be suddenly and completely cut off from our loved ones.  The loss is real and we need to be gracious about it, assisting people in their individual expressions of grief.

However – contrary to those who refuse to have faith – we know that death does NOT have the last word.  The word of God reveals to us the great and grand hope that death is a doorway that opens but once and leads us into the eternal presence of God.  Beyond that doorway awaits Jesus and all our loved ones who trusted Him with their lives.

God gave Paul these words to comfort him and his church.  He gives them to us as a living hope and a firm foundation for our faith.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

Four Bear Ants

Please read Romans 14+15 in your go-to version of the Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.  (This is the third in a series of three posts.)

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

By the way, if you want an explanation of this post’s title, please repeat it aloud until you hear the word that’s really there.  Forbearance is the virtue of extending forgiveness in advance of an offense: it is essential for godly relationships.

This week an article posted on the Harvard Business Review website caught my eye.  The title of the article was “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.”  The author was Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States.  He served in that position from 2014 to 2017.

His point is that loneliness is more prevalent than we may realize and why it’s a problem.

“Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that t real number may well be higher.”

“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making.”

“Loneliness is t feeling of having inadequate social connections. Why has this feeling increased over past decades? Partly because people are more geographically mobile and are thus more likely to be living apart from friends and family. Indeed, more people report living alone today than at any time since the census began collecting this data.”

(Retrieved from https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic on 09.27.17>)

After we’ve had a chance to complete our understanding of God’s teaching in RMS 14+15, we’ll revisit this article and adapt Dr. Murthy’s advice to businesses on how to help people with the problem of loneliness.

Let me make this simple.  God has two solutions to the problem of loneliness: family and the Church.  This fact makes it even more of a shame that we have so thoroughly messed-up BOTH these institutions.  The result is that loneliness is a problem growing in width and depth.

  1. God’s solution has many layers.

Our motive is love and in this order: God, others, self (14:15).  Given the culture we have, here’s an ethical principle our nation needs to hear and practice: your freedom (“rights”) NEVER trumps your responsibility to love.

The value of other people is NOT dependant on what YOU think of them; the value of other people depends on what God thinks of them.  V. 15 reminds us of what God thinks of them; they are SOMEONE FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED.

The standard is unity (14:7-9, 19-21; 15:5-6) as an expression of our commonly-held life.  14:7-9 explain why we are not in this alone: we’re part of a team, the winning team, as a matter of fact.  Let’s observe something important: you may feel alone sometimes, but you are never really alone (14:7).

The most important reason we’re never alone is that the Lord Jesus is always with us.  In life and in death He is with us and we BELONG to Him (14:8).

Jesus died on the cross to make this depth of relationship possible (14:9).  It is His action not yours; Jesus picked you first.  It’s GRACE, folks.

In 14:19-21 an important objective is set before us, a main reason to be church.  THEREFORE (14:19) alerts us that an application is coming; in this case three of them.

One, MAKE EVERY EFFORT means that unity is a greater priority than getting your way.  Sacrifice selfishness to succeed in spirituality!

Two, DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE requires us to choose our words and deeds carefully; to intentionally select things that cause PEACE.

Three, DO WHAT LEADS TO MUTUAL EDIFICATION means to choose things that will build others’ faith and confidence in the Lord.

The FOOD & DRINK in 14:20-21 are examples of non-issues that became issues because a weaker sibling in the family of God made them an issue. Maturity and freedom do not give anyone the right to purposely ignore the conscience of others or give offense.  Love trumps one’s rights.  If you truly love God and your neighbor, you’ll show it by being considerate.

The weaker sibling is someone who has genuine but wrong convictions.  This obviously does not include people who are choosing to be obnoxious, willful bullies, and hypocrites.  We don’t let them rule the day by pettiness.

Unity is not something we accomplish on our own strength; God provides it (15:5+6).  God gives us ENDURANCE and ENCOURAGEMENT; He gives us THE SAME MIND TOWARD EACH OTHER THAT CHRIST JESUS HAD (a sacrificial one).

These gifts are for the purpose of glorifying God the Father by having ONE MIND AND ONE VOICE.  Of course, having ONE MIND AND VOICE is not possible in our humanity; it is a gift from God.  God is glorified when we are in unity; He is not when we are in disunity.

Have your convictions but temper them by accepting others (14:1, 3, 5-6, 14-16, 22; 15:1-4, 7).  Accepting one another means two things.

One, do not quarrel at all & especially not over DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1).  Paul offered the choice of SACRED DAYS (14:5-6), and MEAT offered to idols (14:6) as examples of disputable matters.

Two, no matter which side of an issue you take, don’t TREAT anyone w/ CONTEMPT.  In Jesus, it is possible to be FULLY CONVINCED without being obnoxious.  The “secret” is that regardless of which side you take, you do it for the Lord, not self.  This will keep your pride from getting in the way of your better judgment.  Whatever your conviction is, redeem it from selfishness by  doing it with THANKS to God.  This orientation will take selfishness out of the equation, keeping our priorities in proper order.

Practicing what he preached, Paul accepted other believers (14:14-16).  His personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF.  But he didn’t go around forcing his belief on others.  Out of love, he was considerate and did all he could to avoid causing distress.

When you find yourself in a disagreement or argument, what is your first inclination?

– If you want to force your will and win at all costs, then know you are sinning. It’s serious.  You are destroying someone for who Christ died.

– If you want to give in and do anything to keep even a false peace, then know that you are sinning because you lack the courage of your convictions, even tho’ God gives strengthens us to do right.

– As usual, the best way is in the middle.  In this case, that means being careful to not do anything to offend sincere spiritual siblings.

A practical way to avoid this sin is to keep your opinions to yourself as Paul commanded in 14:22.  If you’re not asked for your opinions, don’t volunteer them.  Instead, do as Paul suggested and KEEP them BETWEEN YOURSELF AND GOD.  Do this and you will be BLESSED because you will avoid unnecessary conflicts and embarrassing yourself.

Those who think themselves STRONG will prove it by not living to PLEASE themselves (15:1-4).  This means bearing with the FAILINGS OF THE WEAK.  We don’t assert superiority – especially if it’s real – but in humility, love them.  This also means we aim to BUILD UP our neighbors in spiritual maturity by doing GOOD.

In this we have Jesus Himself as our example, as everything He did was aimed at helping others, not Himself.  He even suffers the INSULTS intended for us.  15:7 provides perspective; we are motivated to accept one another in the way God has accepted us IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.

The teaching of God’s word makes His will plain: we are to love one another.  The Scriptures help us to endure difficult people and toxic relationships graciously.  The Scriptures give us courage by giving us HOPE.  God is in charge; the truth will win out.

Another method is to keep your perspective broad by trusting God that He will get it right at the end (14:1, 13, 17-18; 15:8-14).  A lack of perspective makes DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1) feel like a matter of life and death, even when they aren’t.  Seeing things from God’s point of view reduces problems down to actual size.

The word THEREFORE in 14:13 introduces two more applications of this truth.  First, STOP PASSING JUDGMENT ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is a command to stop acting on your human nature.  We tend to show prejudice and bias because we’re too hateful or too lazy to get to know people individually.

Another tendency is to “demonize” people who dare to disagree with us.  We imagine them to be bad people because we’re unwilling to concede they may be right.

The second application is to not put a STUMBLING BLOCK or OBSTACLE in the way of another person.  Don’t make living a life of faith harder; make it easier.

When we see life from God’s perspective we don’t allow DISPUTABLE MATTERS to become divisive (14:17-18).  From His perspective, what matters is the KINGDOM OF GOD and it is made up of more important things that mere EATING and DRINKING.  People who make God’s perspective their own will succeed in PLEASING GOD and will ultimately win HUMAN APPROVAL.

This lengthy and essential section on righteous relationships concludes with the ultimate example of God bringing people together: God brought the Jews and Gentiles together (15:8-15).  The Jews were the people of God from the time he made them a nation at the exodus.  Everybody else is a GENTILE.

BUT – God has always been working to bring the Gentiles into the family of God.  In Old Testament times, this was accomplished by Gentiles converting to the Law.  Case in point; Jesus served the Jews to fulfill all God’s promises to the Jewish founding fathers, but by His death and resurrection, He broke down the DIVIDING WALL between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:14), creating one new people, the Church.  The Church is supposed to be God’s greatest achievement in bringing people together and just look at what we’ve done with it.  To prove this point Paul offered a series of OT quotes – all of them with the word GENTILE in them – to demonstrate God always intended all nations to be included among His people.

The passage concludes on a positive note, offering all these divine blessings: HOPE…ALL JOY AND PEACE…OVERFLOW WITH HOPE.  Paul also explained HOW we will come to these blessings.  Two means:

AS YOU TRUST IN HIM.  Interesting.  The more we trust God, the more accepting we are of each other.

BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.  The Holy Spirit is the power cable through which the divine energy of God is channeled to us.

Our days are pockmarked with bullet holes.  Nationalism and tribalism give rise to war and other kinds of conflicts around the world.  Have you seen the news and heard the rhetoric in the media and in government?  We seem to be more divided than ever as a nation.  The Church is divided into tens of thousands of splinter groups.  Individual churches see feud and splits over matters that are trivial.  Families are broken on a scale we would have thought unimaginable a generation ago.

We are in need of righteous relationships.  In Jesus Christ, believers have all we need to make righteous relationships a reality.  The only question is our willingness to believe, to sacrifice selfishness, and to enact the commands of God in the power of the Spirit.  Righteous relationships do not come easy, but they are worth it.